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INTERDISCIPLINARY TEACHING WITH HUMANISTS: REFLECTIONS OF A BIOLOGICAL SCIENTIST RIVERS SINGLETON, JR.* Interdisciplinary teaching has perhaps reached the status of academic cliché, but it is frequendy done with little consideration given to its meaning or, more important, to its impact on both teacher and student. This perhaps arises from a lack ofprecision in defining the term. For my purposes, interdisciplinary teaching means bringing the perspectives and tools ofa variety ofdiverse fields into focus on a subject in which all ofthe fields have a common interest. It is possible for a single individual to do interdisciplinary teaching, but few members of the academic community have sufficient tools and skills to do this adequately. Thus, for me, the term implies team teaching by two or more individuals, and my experience has been with this approach. Team teaching is often confused with sequential teaching. That is, a scientist shows up to lecture for a few sessions, then a literary critic shows up for a similar performance, and finally a philosopher or perhaps a historian shows up to pronounce a few words of wisdom. The only connection among these "guests" is the criticism each makes of the other's discipline. Little effort is made to show how each discipline is related to the subject under study or the interrelations among disciplines . This pattern is not my understanding of interdisciplinary teaching . In my view, each ofthese individuals should be continuously present The author takes full responsibility for the personal ideas expressed in this essay. He does express sincere thanks to D. Heyward Brock and Ronald Martin, both of the Department ofEnglish and Center for Science and Culture, Martin Friedman ofthe Instructional Resources Center, and David W. Smith ofthe School of Life and Health Sciences for their exciting discussions and helpful criticisms during the development of the essay. Thanks are also expressed to the Division of Scientific Personnel Improvement, National Science Foundation, for their direct support (grant SPI-8000369), as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities for their indirect support through several grants to the Center for Science and Culture of the University of Delaware. ?Research assistant professor, School of Life and Health Sciences, University of Delaware , Newark, Delaware 19711.© 1983 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/83/2602-03S2$01.00 304 I Rivers Singleton,Jr. · Interdisciplinary Teaching with Humanists throughout the discourse, shaping and molding the subject matter according to the perspective of his or her discipline. I have experienced success in this approach, and it is my objective here to explore the origins of that success. For several years now, I have been involved in an interdiscipUnary approach to dealing with biomedical and related problems for undergraduate students. Two courses have been central to this approach. "Critical Thinking" is an attempt to analyze criticaUy several texts dealing with the nature of man and his place in the universe. The texts used have been both scientific (e.g., Darwin's Origin ofSpecies, Harvey's On the Circulation ofthe Blood) and humanistic (e.g., Camus's The Plague) as well as classical (e.g., Euripides' Hippolitus, Lucretius's The Way Things Are) and modern (e.g., Dawkins's The Selfish Gene). "Moral and Ethical Problems in Biomedicine" (bioethics) attempts to focus on ethical dimensions of medical practice and biomedical research [I]. Issues discussed in this course vary widely from personal ones, such as abortion or genetic diseases , to societal issues, such as the recombinant DNA controversy. A unique dimension of this discussion is our use of literary works to bring ethical conflicts and dilemmas into sharper focus. These courses have been developed and taught by members of the Center for Science and Culture ofthe University of Delaware. Members of the center are faculty members of science and humanities departments of the university who come together to think, discuss, and teach about various problems of common interest. Students in both courses come from the entire university community in terms ofacademic class and major. Whereas there is often heavy student representation from the biological and health-related disciplines, both courses have been cross-listed for humanities credit and, thus, often enroll numerous students with little or no science training past the...


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